Increase intrinsic satisfaction.
There are many important activities that could be pleasurable but aren't: school, much of our work, child care, caring for others, etc. We are born curious and excited about learning. We want to be and feel competent. Yet, we get bored with school. Why? We have jobs that provide a great service to others (making a shirt or car). Yet, we may hate the work. Why? We like to give to others. Yet, paying taxes to provide schools, medical care, help to the old, the poor, the unemployed, etc. is an unpleasant chore. Why? Because we overlook the potential intrinsic satisfaction in these activities! (See a long section, Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation in chapter 4)
A recent summary of 145 articles (Cameron, Banko, & Pierce, 2001) in this area shows that providing extrinsic rewards following a behavior usually increases the intrinsic satisfaction one gets from performing that act. The exception to this is when the behavior is already quite interesting or satisfying and the reward entails some pressure or external control on the actor, for instance the delivery of the reward is contingent on successfully completing a specific step, or the reward is provided in such a way that it communicates to the actor that he/she is failing, doing poorly, or needs to speed up. A verbal reward, such as praise or positive comments, almost always increased the interest in the activity, even if it was already high in interest. Even tangible extrinsic rewards, like an award, increased interest if the rewards were given for simply finishing a task, for scoring above a certain level, for doing better than others, and for just solving a problem.
Intrinsic motivation is high when the activity is interesting, is challenging but not too hard, requires some skill, arouses your curiosity, and permits the actor to make his/her own decisions, exercise control, set his/her own pace in pleasant surroundings, and can get totally into the behavior as it occurs. (See the discussion of flow near the end of the page.) Keep those points in mind as you carry out this method being sure you realize the high-interest activities may need to be reinforced with rewards in different ways than low-interest tasks.
Deci (1975) recommends that employers pay a good salary in order to recruit a good employee and satisfy his/her basic needs. But the salary should not be used as an incentive for greater productivity because it interferes with intrinsic satisfaction from the work. How? Because we may start working for a salary increase or a commission--not for the pleasure of doing the work. Deci says the employee should be given (1) interesting, challenging tasks and responsibilities, (2) considerable control over how to solve the problems, and (3) support and good relationships with co-workers, which add up to intrinsic satisfaction. About the same recommendations are made for schools by critics of traditional schools.
- To enhance the intrinsic satisfaction in an activity.
- To use the intrinsic satisfaction as our motivation instead of or in combination with extrinsic rewards.
STEP ONE: Carefully identify the possible sources of intrinsic satisfaction in the activity.
Let's take studying as an example. What are the intrinsic satisfactions?
- Learning new information is interesting; it satisfies our curiosity; it feels good to understand.
- Much of what we learn about nature or our bodies and our minds is beautiful and awesome. The mystery and complexity of the origin and development and purpose of everything in the universe is mind-boggling--a challenge to the greatest minds.
- Pulling old and new information together so that it "makes more sense" is satisfying. Like solving a puzzle.
- When we acquire enough information that we feel competent and knowledgeable relative to others, we feel a sense of mastery.
- Using the knowledge by doing something, such as writing or talking to others... and thinking about doing so...is gratifying. It can be creative.
- Planning our own learning experiences and exercising the self-discipline and responsibility involved can produce pride.
- Learning to solve problems and help others is deeply satisfying.
A similar list could be made for any positive activity or situation.
STEP TWO: Repeatedly affirm the value and pleasure obtained from the ongoing activity.
While undertaking the activity, focus your attention periodically (briefly every 10 or 15 minutes) on the possible intrinsic satisfactions. Marvel at and appreciate the beauty involved. Take pride in your activity. When finished with each work period, take a minute or two to appreciate your work and to think about how the information can be used and enjoyed in the future.
STEP THREE: Provide as many rewards and pleasant circumstances as possible. If the activity is already positive, carefully avoid overemphasizing the external rewards and/or making them unduely controlling, pressuring, or negative.
Positive, desired extrinsic rewards, such as money, will usually increase the pleasure one gets out of the rewarded low or high-interest activity. However, if one believes he/she is doing something for an extrinsic reward, this may reduce the awareness of potential intrinsic satisfactions (Deci, 1975). Example: a student who is highly motivated to go to law school and dreams of the status and material rewards he/she will achieve as a lawyer may overlook the pleasure of learning about government, rules of evidence, and tax laws. Not only will this result in less enjoyment during pre-law and law school, but it could also lower the probability of keeping up with the professional reading a good lawyer should continue to do.
Keep the extrinsic and intrinsic satisfactions in perspective--in balance. You need to be aware of both and the interplay between them. There are unpleasant jobs that need to be done--extrinsic rewards must be used. But, remember, as with hidden talents, you might have a potentially high intrinsic interest in some activity and never realize it, unless you are encouraged or encourage yourself to explore many areas. Example: Many students have had the experience of coming to love a required course that they thought they would hate. Many activities are started because of the external rewards (being paid for it or wanting to be with friends) but continue because we like the activity. Thus, you may need to initially self-reward some new activity but gradually reduce the importance of the external pay offs so the intrinsic satisfaction can grow: "I do it because I like it" or "because it's morally right."
Common problems with the method
Our old beliefs and current social milieu are so different from these positive attitudes about intrinsic satisfaction that it may not be believable to you that learning, working, paying taxes, sacrificing for the needy, etc. could be enjoyable. Think about it.
Effectiveness, advantages and dangers
As we have seen, there is some research about the interaction between intrinsic motivation and rewards. But there is hardly any study of producing and utilizing an increase in intrinsic satisfaction as a self-help method. Indeed, we know relatively little about how to increase intrinsic satisfaction. Regretable! You can look around though and see the power of intrinsic motivation in action: a voracious reader, a skilled perfectionistic craftsperson who obviously enjoys his/her work, the 60-hour-a-week worker who loves his/her job, etc. That's the advantage. No danger is known.
INTERVENTIONS FOLLOWING THE TARGET BEHAVIOR
Reward the desired behavior; positive reinforcement.
A response followed promptly by an effective reward (reinforcement) will be more likely to occur again. This is called the "law of effect;" it is the basis of operant conditioning and the major means of changing voluntary behavior. These learning principles can be viewed from two perspectives: (1) the motivated learner--who might ask, "What do I have to do to get the rewards I want?" and (2) the behavior modifier--who asks, "What rewards (or punishment) do I have to offer to encourage the desired behaviors (in others or oneself)?"
Let's consider some examples from each viewpoint: (1) the motivated learner knows the rewards he/she wants but not how to get them. The Little Leaguer wants to hit the ball hard but it takes a lot of practice to learn how. Each successful hit is a reward, i.e. a source of satisfaction and motivation to keep trying, and a source of information about what to do to be successful in the future. The young man starting to date must learn (often by "exploration," of course I mean trial and error) how to behave to get the rewards he wants from his girlfriend. Much of life is discovering what works for you to get what you want (see method #2). Once we "know what to do," i.e. we have learned the lawful relationships between behavior and payoffs. Then we use this knowledge over and over, whenever we want the payoff, and the behavior may become a habit.
(2) Sometimes we have learned behaviors and/or sought goals that are not ideal; they are bad habits. We become dissatisfied and want to change. In this case, operant learning principles simply say: reward the desired behavior (or behavior approximating the desired behavior) and don't reward the unwanted habit.
There are innumerable illustrations of the power of rewards in psychology--children's behavior change, students' study habits change, patients' symptoms change, self-concepts change, topics of conversation change... when the rewards are changed. This is positive reinforcement. B. F. Skinner believes it is one of the most powerful and useful ideas in psychology. It provides a solution of many human troubles.
Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided.
-John Locke, 1690
The major problem with positive reinforcement is that our Creator forgot to make it automatic to give rewards, praise, and love when things are going well. Note that the Creator remembered to build in automatic irritation when things don't go our way. Strange isn't it? Fortunately, the Creator seems to have realized the mistake before humans were finished and stuck a glob of 150 billion nerve cells on top. We call it our brain. To effectively use positive reinforcement, we have to think! And, what's worse, we have to think to do something when we are pleased and satisfied and feeling good. Or, just as difficult, think in advance of rewards to give later when good behavior occurs--that's called contingency management or contracting. That is this method.
Many people believe that most things we do voluntarily are the result of reinforcement, that there are payoffs (or hopes for one) for everything we do (see method #9). If that is the case, the good self-controller would surely be (l) busily investigating the behavior-rewards connections and (2) making certain their good traits (caring, loving, self-discipline) are well rewarded or performed right before some pleasurable life event (like eating or going to the bathroom or being appreciated by others).
In method #2, we are designing and learning a better behavior for getting the rewards we want. In this method, however, we (self-modifiers) are changing the consequences to get the behaviors we want. Or, we (learners) are agreeing to behave in new (probably already learned) ways to get some payoff we want.
Rewards may be viewed as (1) a source of motivation or (2) reinforcers of the strength of the preceding response as a habit. Both are accurate views. We use rewards to encourage desired behavior to occur now and in the future. Chapter 4 has a section explaining more about reinforcement.
Self-helpers need to consider the entire context of their self-reinforcement.
Keep an overall perspective: This method helps you single out a simple behavior and carefully administer repeated rewards to strengthen the desired action. However, while trying to change one minuscule behavior, one must not forget that there are thousands of other behaviors, some rewarded for years and well established habits, which are competing with the single behavior you have decided you want to occur more often. Only the strongest or most reinforced behavior gains the right to occur. It is important to keep in mind the universe surrounding you, namely, hordes of swirling habits accumulated over a lifetime and a myriad of reinforcers ready to be attached to many behaviors. Consider these examples in which this morass messes up your self-control.
(1) Strong old habits are powerful, ask any smoker, any beer lover, any social or Internet addict, any late night snacker, and on and on. New habits are weak and need special and frequent reinforcement.
Naturally occurring powerful reinforcements may often mess up your long-term self-help efforts. You will have to reduce or control them. Consider these examples--fast food, desserts and candy destroy healthy diets; watching TV and drinking a beer make exercising very unlikely; good tasting soothing cigarettes lead to illness, not health; anger enables you to get your way but you lose friends and loved ones; passivity saves you from confrontation but leads to domination; habitually thinking "I can't ____ " avoids the hard work of trying, etc. Thus, to arrange successful reinforcement of the new desired behavior, very often you have to avoid or counter old habits that undermine your more important goals.
There are many ways to counter the problems of powerful competing habits that derail your important long-term goals. Basically, the methods include: (a) avoid the situations in which the strong habits occur, stay away from drinking buddies, don't buy fast food or desserts, etc. Also, if possible, (b) reduce the payoff of a strong habitual behavior by reminding yourself of the bad long-range consequences of this unwanted behavior, e.g. read about the health hazards and make a record before smoking every cigarette, paste your balance and the monthly interest charges over the face of your credit card , and make a list of the people you have hurt by being overly critical, etc. (c) Learn new skills that can replace powerful bad habits, e.g. read about assertiveness and insist you try "I" statements instead of using demands, bitching, or angry rages. And, finally, (d) make the desired new behaviors easy to carry out and pour on the rewards and self-praise for these behaviors that will eventually enable you to achieve your long-range goals.
(2) Immediately available pleasures/rewards distract us from more important long-term achievements. An overall perspective is needed.
Humans will, to varying degrees, take an immediately available small reward (say, $2 for a chore) rather than waiting for a week for a 50% greater reward ($3.00 for the chore). Maybe we doubt the bigger reward will be there a week later. In any case, research shows this to be so. Yet, we all know that instant payoffs overpower wiser but later satisfactions, e.g., we buy attractive toys and gadgets rather than save for bigger things for the future, we spend time with our girl/boyfriend instead of studying, we watch sexy funny sit-coms and "forget" writing the lab report, we have unprotected sex and get or give a STD lasting a life-time, we have a brief affair destroying a good long-term relationship, etc., etc. So, it isn't just derailing strong old habits that we have to guard against, but also tempting immediate pleasures which disrupt our achieving long-term goals.
Of course, one should avoid such immediate positive situations as much as possible and develop other incompatible responses, like assuming more of a responsible leadership role at work instead of playing around. Warning signs can help. Self-talk can guide our behavior to some extent by constantly reminding ourselves of our important goals and what has to be done to get there.
(3) Avoiding mildly unpleasant tasks may eventually result in major problems or in the failure to achieve some important goal.
Examples: Not going to the doctor to have a check up when you actually have high blood pressure, avoiding dealing with a marital problem until your partner files for divorce, neglecting to buy condoms or to take the pill until an unwanted pregnancy occurs, not studying hard enough to get into medical or law or graduate school, or avoiding dealing with shyness which eventually prevents dating, marriage and children.
When one neglects unpleasant but needed immediate tasks, one should schedule frequently and reward heavily the goal-directed behaviors. At the same time, one can also focus on learning to enjoy the behaviors that leads to your long-term goals, e.g. study or work in ways you enjoy, use your new knowledge, take pride in doing well.
In summary, there are various ways of increasing the probability of good outcomes--avoid temptations, make it easy to do the right thing, practice the desired behavior until it becomes a habit, repeatedly remind yourself of the good and bad consequences of your behavior, give yourself inspirational pep talks, carefully observe and actually record your behavior, and feel proud and get support from friends, coworkers, relatives, or whomever you can. The other behavioral methods of self-control in this chapter will help you make these changes.
You need to be aware of the complexity of behaviors. You need to know yourself and what reinforcements have you under control. Are you a slave to strong habits? Do you give due weight to future outcomes or do you pretty much live for the moment and avoid unpleasant tasks? Do you succumb to old habits or focus on the "goodies of the moment" and forget the more important distant goals? Do you neglect distasteful chores, like doing a report or buying a new battery for your old car, leading to dire consequences? These are formulae for failure. If you overlook or minimize the probable bad consequences of bad behavior (even though it may be fun right now) or play down the possible good consequences of good behavior (even though it may be hard unpleasant work), you need to learn how to accentuate the importance of those long-term outcomes! One needs to keep his/her eyes on the big long-range consequences (see motivation in chapter 14).
When we are fully aware of all the consequences of our actions (the resulting reinforcement), we can have more self-control and more payoffs in the long run. This isn't easy. But rewarding desirable behavior, as now described in this method, is very important.
Rewards can be used any time a new response--behavior, thought, feeling, attitude, skill--is needed to overcome a problem or to be a better person. Rewards can be used:
- To motivate you to do a desired behavior that isn't a self-sustaining response yet. Eventually, a new behavior should yield enough natural payoffs to sustain itself.
- To encourage you to keep trying to find a way to a goal.
- To strengthen the tendency of a desirable habit (or thought or feeling) to occur again in the future.
- To create a new and better response by (a) shaping, i.e. rewarding some behavior that approximates the desired behavior (keep rewarding changes in the desired direction until the desired behavior occurs), or (b) rewarding a substitute behavior, e.g. if one has a whiny, pessimistic roommate, one could reward pleasant, optimistic comments.
- To reinforce the reduction of an unwanted response (cutting down a bad habit).
- To sweeten up an unpleasant but necessary task (the usual employment situation).
- To make up for the loss of harmful pleasures, e.g. pride in your looks can make up for giving up rich delicious food, fun times with an athletic team can make up for fun times with drug-using friends, etc.
- To discover and increase intrinsic satisfaction: (1) to initiate an activity that you may discover to be naturally satisfying or (2) to associate a reward with a task, e.g. studying, so that the task becomes more pleasurable (see method #15).
STEP ONE: Identify the desired behavior in very specific terms; Set subgoals (daily, weekly, and monthly) as well as final goals.
First of all, it is hard to improve oneself if one doesn't know exactly what to do...and when and where to do it. So, one has to convert vague goals, like "I want to get organized" or "I want to be more loving" or "I wish I had less of a temper," into specific desired behaviors, like make up a daily schedule, talk and do fun things together 30 minutes every day, and try specific methods from chapter 7 for reducing my anger.
Since positive reinforcers are supposed to primarily strengthen the responses given during the previous few seconds or, at most, minutes (unless the situation is recreated in one's mind), therefore, the to-be-rewarded response must be brief, easily identified, and very clearly associated in your mind with the payoff. Otherwise, how will you know when to give the reward at the right moment?
Likewise, since you expect gradual improvement in your behavior, you need to set realistic daily, weekly, and monthly subgoals which will be reinforced as soon as they occur. Examples: For the first week of jogging, you might decide to jog 1/2 a mile every day. For the second week, 3/4's of a mile daily. For the third week, a mile a day. The rewards should be given right after running. If you want to be more assertive, the behavior needs to be developed gradually, just like jogging. So, set subgoals and final goals, which will be used in the contract in step 3.
Also, since the environment determines much of our behavior, it may be helpful to specifically prescribe the situation in which the desired behavior will occur. Watson and Tharp (1972) suggest describing the desired behavior-in-a-situation, i.e. exactly what behavior, in what situation including when and where. Example: during the lunch hour in his office I will talk to the boss about my being expected to make the coffee every day in the office and tactfully indicate that I would like to share that chore with other people.
STEP TWO: Find and arrange for rewards (or positive reinforcers) that should work for you.
The rewards must be available, under your control, and powerful enough to motivate you. At first, it may be hard to think of any. That's because you haven't been taught to think in this way. It is important that you realize the wide variety of reinforcers there are in the world (that realization alone may increase your intrinsic satisfaction with life). This awareness may have a profound impact on how you think about your life, moment by moment, if you start using more of these potential rewards.
Lengthy check off lists of specific reinforcers have been published. I will only give examples; you'll have to devise your own specifics. Keep in mind that a good self-reinforcement program (see next step) will require small and large rewards, because we ordinarily can't give a big payoff for every little 1-10 minute response. What are some possible rewards?
- Money or tokens--anything that can later be cashed in or traded for something valued. The advantage of this type of reward is that it is easy to give in small, frequent amounts, say 10 cents for 10 minutes "work." The small rewards can be saved for something big.
Actually, giving up many bad habits can generate a lot of money, perhaps $400 to $1,000 per year from excessive eating or smoking or $500 to $4,000 per year from drinking.
- Material things--small: pencil, greeting card, picture, etc. Medium: record album, something to play with, books, etc. Large: new clothes (in a smaller size?), telephone, radio, sports equipment, furniture, etc. A variation of this that costs nothing is to give a friend some of your valued possessions with the understanding that they will be given back to you as you reach certain objectives in your self-help project. Otherwise, you lose them to Goodwill.
- Physical pleasures--small: a bite of candy, stick of gum, glass of beverage, snack, etc. Medium: eating a nice dessert or meal, drinking a glass of wine, taking a relaxing nap, getting a 10 minute back rub, etc. Large: a good workout and shower, a whole body massage, a special meal out, being held by a lover, etc.
- Fun activities alone--small: smell a rose, daydream, watch people, read a short article, play with pet, plan a party, etc. Medium: watching TV, reading, exercising, taking a shower, taking a walk, working in garden, writing a letter, etc. Large: do something creative or artistic, go hiking, start a hobby, go shopping, fix up a car, learn to fly, etc.
- Social activities--small: talk on the phone, tell a joke, go out for a snack, offer to help someone, invite someone over, etc. Medium: go to a movie or theater or ball game, go to or give a party, play sports, etc. Large: go on a vacation, join a club, go to a concert or a dance, start doing volunteer work, invite a foreign student to live with you, etc.
- Appreciation and rewards from others--small: getting a compliment or show of appreciation from others, someone fixes you a dessert, receiving a thank you note or a call saying, "You were so nice," etc. Medium: getting a letter of commendation, someone offering to do all the cooking while you are on a diet, hearing that someone has said really nice things about you, etc. Large: someone saying "I love you" or "I admire you" or "You are fantastic," someone offering help in getting a job, your relatives offering help when you need it, etc. The difficulty here is being able to control these powerful, valuable payoffs. That is, you aren't in control of when these rewards will be offered. Perhaps friends will cooperate.
- Self-appreciation and praise--small: saying to yourself, "You did that well!" or "You deserve a break." Medium: telling your family about some success, being quietly proud. Large: the thrill of success, like the football player's "dance" after scoring a touchdown or the college student screaming down the dorm hall, "I got into Law School!" The self-satisfaction can involve an accomplishment, an enjoyment of your own body after losing weight, a respect for your own abilities and a good feeling when you live up to your highest values. It can be the opposite of material gain as when a priest or nun takes a vow of poverty but feels spiritually rich or when one feels super good after helping and giving to a neighbor whose house has burnt.
- Frequently occurring behaviors--Premack observed that such behaviors act the same as reinforcers. Thus, one can use puffing on a cigarette, drinking coffee or water, combing your hair, brushing your teeth, looking at your watch, calling a friend, going to the bathroom or any habit as a reinforcer. Sounds weird but it works.
Hopefully, these examples will stimulate lots of ideas about how to reinforce many desired behaviors.